Trip around my room

Image: Marco Buti


Commentary on Two Books by Xavier de Maistre

Imagine the reader that, for whatever reason, a mortification of love, a neglect of friendship, an epidemic, had to be locked up in a room for a good quarantine. What would you do in these 40 days? He certainly watched TV, via video, played video games, surfed the cable world, delved into the internet, anything, well, less, for God's sake! kept squirming…

But, two hundred years ago, in the absence of such centrifugal devices, away from the technological paraphernalia that plagues us, there was no other way out, and it was through it that Xavier de Maistre (1763-1852) clandestinely entered literary history. The author, an officer in the French army, having to serve house arrest for 42 days, decided to write a book.

It was the year 1794, a time when literature (which did not yet have that impious name) was occupied by the learned men of the time. But what book? A travel book, now! like everyone else did. And in the physical impossibility of undertaking it, he would make another, less costly and laborious, trip around the room.

This is how this delightful book was born, and which for two centuries has continued to delight audiences and critics, without losing its charm. In gallant and elegant prose, befitting a gentleman, Xavier de Maistre goes, in 42 short chapters (one for each day), circling around the room and himself, turning delicate themes, political and social, stocking up on ironies, wielding his sharp rhetorical art.

Not only rhetoric, however, would the book live. What sustains him is his irresistible humor, drawn from a historically beneficial source: the intersection, at the turn of the century, of romantic subjectivism, in an increasing spiral, and classical rationalism, deeply rooted in French culture. This explains the comical references to discoveries, methods, systems, dissertations, which the author gives vent to throughout his journey, between the desk, the armchair and the bed.

It is a caricatured use of reason, no doubt, but with a high suggestive power. It is as if Reason, already half stripped and fallen into rationalism, started to be more interested in its limits than in its achievements. Thus, he now dedicates himself to appreciating the new center of the world, the individual, in his private moment, in a chivalrous duel with the new historical order that was emerging on the horizon with the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution.

We are far, as you can see, from the Renaissance, from Man facing the Universe; we are facing the (bourgeois) individual in the face of (bourgeois) society, a much smaller circle, a much narrower center, but still with that recognizable universal appeal that the new world bore in its cradle. And a little less far from the disintegration of the individual, already nameless, in the Beckettian holes.

The new translation, by Editora 34, worthy of putting the book back into circulation, is not accompanied – unlike previous editions by Estação Liberdade, Mercado Aberto and Hedra – by the continuation of the journey, the Night Expedition Around My Room, appeared thirty years later, in 1825.

However, contrary to what current critical opinion implies, influenced by the formal novelty of the short chapters, the whimsical narration, and which wasn't even that much anymore, if we remember Sterne from Tristram shandyand sentimental journey, this second book by Xavier de Maistre is even more fascinating than the first.

Na Night Expedition, the author, older, abandons his most famous theory (and responsible for the funniest passages of the travel) of the soul and the beast, of the animal that inhabits us and torments us with its urgencies. Despite the same stylistic and thematic universe, with its fragmentary and arbitrary narration, with its praise of the imagination, with the humorous description of human duplicity, the division of being already acquires a strongly romantic color: head and heart, reason and feeling.

But it is not precisely in this more frank romanticism that the superiority of Expedition. No, it is in the narrative situation that the author sets up, infinitely more emblematic.

A man in his room, undertaking a sui generis trip around it, is already evidently rich in suggestions. The unlimited unfolding of the imagination, the apology for its strength, begins to be noticed. If something hypertrophies, it's a sign that something also withers... Finally, the power of imagination involuntarily displays its reverse: its impotence.

Well then, the situation per se suggestive, a mix of power and impotence, it is not weakened in the second book by the moralist allegory that ends the travel. Let us remember that in the first book the author's allegorical dream, in which Plato, Pericles, Aspasia, Hippocrates appear, has no other meaning than to condemn modern times. They are all gathered there, in that antiquity hall that the room becomes, in order to condemn the French Revolution, the libertine customs, the homicidal science of Medicine.

Na Night Expedition, however, already reduced to four hours, from eight to midnight, the allegorist gives way to the realist. And impotence, subliminally thematized in the travel, as it strengthens. Towards the end, after all the stiff necks at the window to hear the siren song of the neighbor downstairs, and in which he almost ends up sprawled on the cold pavement, the author ends up melancholy on horseback at the window, between the bedroom and the other city , with its roofs and chimneys. Beneath the feeling of exasperated loneliness, he feels the presence of time, alive and fatal:

“When men are silent, when the demon of noise is mute in the midst of his temple, in the midst of a sleeping city, it is then that time raises its voice and makes itself heard in my soul. Silence and darkness become interpreters of it, and unveil to me its mysterious march (...) I see it in the sky pushing the stars before it towards the west. There he is, leading the rivers to the sea, and rolling with the mists along the hill... I hear: the winds moan under the effort of his swift wings, and the distant bell shudders at his terrible passage.

'Let's enjoy, let's enjoy your course', I exclaimed. 'I want to make use of the moments he is going to steal from me'. Wanting to take advantage of this good resolution, I immediately leaned forward to launch myself into the race with brio, making a certain clicking sound with my tongue which at all times serves to excite horses, but which is impossible to write according to spelling rules:

....................................  gh!gh!gh!

and thus concluded my excursion on horseback with a gallop.”

With this admittedly impossible ride, Xavier de Maistre helped to start the many other impossibilities that have been appearing in modern literature in these two centuries.

*Airton Paschoa is a writer, author, among other books, of see ships (Nankin, 2007).



Xavier de Maistre. Trip around my room. Translation: Veresa Moraes. Afterword: Enrique Vila-Matas. São Paulo, Publisher 34, 2020.

Xavier de Maistre. Trip around my room. Translation and introduction: Sandra M. Stoparo. Sao Paulo, Hedra, 2009.

Xavier de Maistre. Trip around my room. Translation: Armindo Trevisan. Foreword: Marcelo Backes. Porto Alegre, Open Market, 1998.

Xavier de Maistre. Journey around my room. Translation: Marques Rabelo. Sao Paulo, Liberdade Station, 1989.


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